Today, almost all disposable water bottles and soft drink containers, as well as peanut butter, salad dressing, and shampoo containers, are made of polyethylene terephthalate, which is usually abbreviated PET or PETE. PET is designated with a #1 inside the chasing-arrows recycling symbol. This is a plastic we all come in contact with each day. In addition to bottles and containers, carpeting, fleece jackets, and even some of our clothes are also made from PET.
When you separate your recyclables from trash and either take them to the curb or to a recycling drop-off facility, you are taking plastics and other items on the first step in their journey toward a second life and a healthier planet. Since you are providing a manufacturer with a material which they will use and process, keep your recyclables clean. Empty all bottles and jars. There is no need to remove most labels; however, if possible, remove labels that cover the entire bottle or jar and wrap around the bottom edge. Plastic caps may remain on bottles.
Along with your other collected recyclables, PET plastics are first transported to a sorting facility, called a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF, pronounced “murf”), where they are separated from other types of plastics and other materials. The PET jars, bottles, and packaging are then crushed into bales and shipped off to a PET recycling plant. At this facility, the bales are broken open and the plastics are pre-washed and sorted by color. They are then shredded into tiny pieces which are washed again. These plastic pieces are next placed in a liquid bath, allowing the heavier PET pieces to fall to the bottom and the lighter bottle caps and any remaining labels to float to the top, where they can be removed. When all remaining PET pieces are clean and dried, they are processed into PET flakes or pellets which can be used to make all of the PET items mentioned earlier, such as plastic bottles and packaging, polyester material for clothing or upholstery, fiberfill, or carpet.
According to the PET Resin Association (PETRA), the average American household uses about 45 pounds of PET bottles and jars in a year. However, only about 27 percent of those were recycled in 2016. Even so, over 2 billion pounds of PET plastics are collected annually, which is a good start.
Remember, recycling PET uses less energy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, conserves natural resources, and saves landfill space. And it all starts with YOU tossing that plastic bottle in the recycling bin and buying products made with recycled PET! Plastic recycling begins with you!
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